This article was originally posted on House of Deputies News during the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church and can be found here.
We are in a crisis of formation.
I am reluctant to use the word “crisis,” as we have been in this state for so many years that it feels alarmist to use it now. As a native Iowan I don’t even use emergency words when there is an emergency, as “I am not happy about this,” translates to “I AM FURIOUS.” However, it is time to use the word crisis now, because although it is overused, it is actually true. We as a denomination are neglecting lifelong Christian formation, to our own detriment.
How do I know this?
I know this because we are not talking about formation and discipleship at this convention. Why aren’t we talking about formation? We have made significant decisions about lifelong formation at the denominational level which have had a significant impact on where we are today. Those decisions have not only impacted the conversations we have at General Convention but have impacted the work we are all doing in our own contexts.
In the past nine years we, as General Convention, have made significant changes to the structures and governance of the church. We chose to end the work of the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and cut the Episcopal Church Formation Department budget by over $2,000,000, nearly cutting the department entirely in 2012. We have also reduced the staff of the office from nine full time employees to four. The Episcopal Church Formation Department now has four full-time employees:
There is no criticism to be aimed at the formation department. It does remarkable work within their constraints. We need to own that we, as the Episcopal Church, do not support formation ministries with children, adults, older adults, or lifelong formation at the denominational level.
Following changes enacted at the 78th General Convention, there is no commission, committee, agency, board or task force truly tasked with specifically engaging lifelong formation and discipleship for all the baptized. As a result, there is a significant lack of legislation in front of this convention that engages a conversation around the ministry of the baptized. At recent conventions we have had lively conversations around how we engage the formation of our largest order of ministry, the laity. We have raised up:
Being formed as a disciple takes time. It isn’t sexy. It will never be the new “it” or buzzword. But it is at the root of all that we do as Christians. If we as a denomination choose not to invest in formation, if we don’t pay attention, if we are not intentional about it, formation will not happen. There are opportunities at this General Convention to make a change. D030 and A136 both support and encourage growth in our current formation structures and networks.
We have to be talking about, engaging, and funding formation ministries for all ages and supporting that work at the denominational level if we want to be in a “loving, liberating, life giving relationship with God, with each other, and with the earth.” We cannot do any of this good work of convention if we are not actively being formed as disciples of the risen Christ and creating spaces where the Holy Spirit can do her work of creating disciples.
In the words of Resolution A082 of the 2009 General Convention: Lifelong Christian Faith Formation in The Episcopal Church is Lifelong growth in the knowledge, service and love of God as followers of Christ and is informed by Scripture, Tradition and Reason.
We are not currently engaging in lifelong formation and discipleship as a denomination. At this convention we have the ability to change that trend by supporting D030 and A136, but we have to make active choices to do so. Will we?
I don’t often have Sunday mornings off, it isn’t in the job description. Yesterday was one of those rare Sunday mornings that I wasn’t at work and I spent it in my favorite place, my family place in Ft. Lauderdale. I sat on the back steps drinking a cup of tea, without the sounds made by my fellow humans, only the sounds of water lapping at the dock, the rather enthusiastic wind blowing across the Inland Waterway ruffling the palm trees and fish jumping to escape underwater predators. The sun warmed my skin in a way that melts stress and liquifies my muscles. Now, more than 24 hours later the thought of that time calms my soul in a way that I find little else does. I simply existed in the moment. I was for a time, a human being.
I won’t pretend that I can replicate this feeling on a Sunday morning at work. I don’t find that I can replicate this feeling of peace without closing my eyes and settling my mind to visualize this place here. It is one of my calming tricks when I am anxious, or feeling unsafe. I know I will only hold on to a fraction of this feeling once I leave for the airport, too many people, in close quarters impinging on my personal space and being. I will once again remind myself to drop my shoulders as I feel the tension rise in my body. Thoughts and reminders will enter my brain and edge out the space reserved for this feeling of peace. I will play tricks with myself and wrestle with my disturbing need to imagine a future to be anxious about. I could wax philosophical and pretend that I am going to hold this feeling and work towards feeling at peace when I return to LA but this morning I cannot lie to myself. I am still living the other lie, the one in which I clearly believe that I cannot live with more peace in my own body. The one where I won’t be as important, as useful, as needed if I am not stressed. Where I am not effectively doing my job if I do not pile on myself.
There should be learning from this but today there is only reflection, and a glimmer of hope, that by reflecting I am gaining some wisdom. Then again maybe it is confirming that my call is really to be a hermit and live separated from humans in general. As my sister pointed out, on Thanksgiving, after my mother questioned whether I was growing my hair out like Rapunzel “Somehow I think if Missy is alone at the top of a tower it is because she wants to be there.”